Do Men Make Better Bosses Than Women?

Gallup and Harvard Business Review address the stereotypes

Male and female managers discussing strategy in an office.

10'000 Hours / Getty Images 

According to Gallup, an American research-based company, one in three U.S. workers has a female boss, and workers who currently have a female boss say they would prefer working for another woman in the future. However, the majority of workers, when polled by Gallup since 1953, have consistently stated they would rather work for a man than a woman.

"Why" is a question that should be looked at subjectively and with an open mind.

Are Men Better Managers Than Women?

Asking whether men make better bosses than women is a loaded question that elicits a different answer from every individual you ask. Statistics are available, though, to answer a question that's a little easier: Are women effective at managing? The answer is yes.

In a recent Gallup Poll, female managers outscored male managers when gender was the only factor used in comparing how engaged they were with their employees; age, years of experience, industry, and race were not considered. 12 engagement criteria were used, and women outscored men on 11.

According to authors Kimberly Fitch and Sangeeta Agrawal, who summarized the poll’s results for Gallup:

“Leaders should also know that female managers themselves tend to be more engaged than male managers. Gallup finds that 41% of female managers are engaged at work, compared with 35% of male managers. In fact, female managers of every working-age generation are more engaged than their male counterparts, regardless of whether they have children in their household. These findings have profound implications for the workplace. If female managers, on average, are more engaged than male managers, it stands to reason that they are likely to contribute more to their organization's current and future success.”

A 2015 article in Forbes interprets the data in a similar pro-female-manager way:

“According to Gallup’s data, 41% of female managers are engaged at work, compared to 35% of male managers. While I know there’s some skepticism in management circles about the exact meaning and value of “employee engagement,” I believe it’s as good a measure as any of emotional commitment to an organization, and a reasonable way to assess motivation and ultimately productivity. A perfect measure? No. But a reasonable one? Yes.”

What Is Engagement?

The way in which bosses engage their employees may be somewhat variable, however, engagement generally refers to how effectively a manager:

  • Recognizes and rewards employees for their performance and efforts
  • Allows employees growth opportunities to learn new skills and for advancement
  • Communicates with employees about the organization’s goals
  • Maintains a respectful relationship with employees
  • Creates an atmosphere of open communication to solicit and consider employee feedback and suggestions

Does Gender Play a Role in Manager-Employee Engagement?

While Gallup’s data clearly implies that women do make great managers (at least in terms of engagement), a few interesting statistics demonstrate how gender may play a role in who is being engaged as much as who is doing the engaging:

  • 35% engagement when managers and employees are both female
  • 31% engagement when managers are male and employees are female
  • 29% engagement when managers are female and employees are male
  • 25% engagement when both managers and employees are male

As you can see, the highest level of engagement occurred when both managers and employees were women, while the lowest level of engagement occurred when both managers and employees were men. However, as with all studies, correlation is not the same as causation. In order words, women may have ranked more favorably than their male peers, but is it simply because they are women? 

To answer this question, an article appearing in Harvard Business Review (HBR) summarizing women’s strengths offers some great insights. HBR surveyed 7,280 leaders of some of the most successful organizations worldwide from the private and public sectors.

The survey concluded that the stereotypical attributions assigned to the female gender (such as being more nurturing and better at forging relationships) did have some merit in terms of women ranking higher than men, but the results were not constrained to stereotypes:

"Women’s advantages were not at all confined to traditionally women’s strengths. In fact at every level, more women were rated by their peers, their bosses, their direct reports, and their other associates as better overall leaders than their male counterparts — and the higher the level, the wider that gap grows."

At all managerial levels, women outscored men in leadership skills and competency—even disproving some antiquated notions about stereotypical traits that define men as being superior to women in business: 

“two of the traits where women outscored men to the highest degree — taking initiative and driving for results — have long been thought of as particularly male strengths. As it happened, men outscored women significantly on only one management competence in this survey — the ability to develop a strategic perspective…”

The authors had an opinion as to why women outrank men so highly, yet remain widely untapped resources among companies, especially in top-level, key positions: blatant discrimination.

Perhaps the best approach to take when promoting from within is to disregard gender and, instead, focus on an employee's skills and accomplishments. Both men and women can be great managers.  It is our perceptions about gender that limit us, not gender itself.